The (Second) Elephant in the Room: Another Gender Q&A

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The elephant in the room!

About a year ago, I answered some questions that readers had about my gender.

It felt strange to do this, knowing that my identity was constantly in flux and that I was still figuring myself out. But I can never resist a good Q&A!

With 2015 coming to a close, I revisited that article for old time’s sake. And, of course, I was not surprised to find that not every answer held true for me in the present day.

So I figured, why not make this Q&A something of a yearly tradition? It might be interesting to see how my sense of self shifts over the years.

If you’re new to the site and wondering what in the hell my gender is, or if you’re a veteran reader who’s just curious to see what has changed this year, this Q&A will give you some insights into my gender identity and my transition.

It’s a new year and a new Q&A. Let’s do this!

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I identify as genderqueer and non-binary.

I use he/him as my pronouns, though I’m also a fan of they/them, so I respond to both!

What do those words mean to you?

To me, genderqueer means that I don’t identify exclusively as masculine or feminine. It means I fuck around with gender and I’m content with the ambiguity. Non-binary is essentially the same in that I reject the gender binary.

How have your self-descriptors changed since last year?

I used to self-describe as transmasculine, meaning I identified more with masculinity than I did femininity. I realized that this felt safer for me. I thought that I had to reject femininity to be seen as a valid AFAB (assigned female at birth) transgender person.

However, in the last year, I’ve found that language to be really limiting. I’m reconnecting with my own femininity and I’m seeing how there are a lot of layers to my own gender.

So I’m back to using “genderqueer” as my primary descriptor.

Are your gender identity (your sense of self) and your gender expression (how you express it on the outside) the same? Different?

Last year, I had a pretty non-binary identity but a decidedly masculine expression, meaning that while I didn’t identify with any particular gender, the way I presented myself to the world was very masculine.

In part, that was motivated by that binarism that says AFAB trans people must transition to be masculine, and AMAB trans people must transition to be feminine (which is SO not true and such a limited understanding of transness).

Part of that was also just the trauma of being misgendered and feeling that I needed to be as masculine as possible in order to avoid being read as a woman.

I’ve slowly moved away from that and have started looking for ways to incorporate all kinds of gender expressions into my everyday life. That’s felt super liberating for me. It’s no longer about other people – it’s just about me now.

How did you know you were transgender?

There were so many little moments building up to this that it’s hard to say which one was my “aha” moment. My two biggest moments, I think, were when I saw an androgynous character on television for the first time and when I started wearing a chest binder.

I’d suggest reading this memoir piece (which is easily the best thing I wrote this year) and this article on internalized transphobia (another one of my best pieces) to get a full sense of what my journey has looked like so far.

When did you come out and what were the reactions you received?

I came out to close friends a few years ago, and was really lucky to get a mix of affirmations, support, and curiosity.

I came out to my family gradually – subtle conversations, tap dancing around it – but came out completely this last year. There was fear, hesitation, confusion… but underneath all of that, there was love. It’s the love that’s carrying us through right now. I have an incredible family.

Does your family know about your writing?

Every single year, I get asked this question a few times.

Yes! And they’ll read it from time to time. Hi, Mom, I love you.

Some of my extended family found my work online and they’ve been wonderfully supportive. Hey, cousins, what’s up?

How has your transition been so far?

Last year I used an equal number of negative and positive adjectives when answering this question, even using the word “painful.” It definitely speaks to where I was at the time with my transition.

This year I have almost exclusively positive adjectives: Beautiful. Affirming. Life-giving. Scary. Magical.

And like I said before, only with more conviction this time: Exactly what I needed.

Are you taking testosterone? Do you plan to?

Last year I said I wasn’t sure. It’s funny to me, because I couldn’t be more sure now.

Back in May, I had this realization – that I couldn’t keep living my life in this body and in this way. It’s the kind of epiphany that you feel at the core of your heart. I knew from that point on that it was something I needed to do.

On December 9th, 2015, I started testosterone (and every Wednesday, I write a weekly column at Ravishly, “Testosterone and Tea,” where I reflect on that week’s experiences – you should follow along if you haven’t been already!).

It was absolutely the right choice for me and I’m glad that I waited until I felt ready.

Have you always known that you were transgender?

It seems like every day, as I let go of the shame that I felt around being trans and I start to heal, I am able to really connect with my past and begin to see the ways in which I was struggling with my gender for a long time.

I haven’t always known and I definitely wasn’t born this way. I also think the trauma of having bipolar disorder meant that I had to focus, first and foremost, on my own survival.

But in all the reflecting I’ve done this last year, I can see that this was a long time coming.

If you aren’t a man or a woman, what is your sexual orientation?

Hahaha. I laugh because it’s like, I could care less about my sexual orientation. I am at that point in my life where it’s just irrelevant. I’m queer, and I’m polyamorous, and I’m happy; I date whoever I want.

I will say that I date mostly other trans people and/or folks with mental illness. It’s not on purpose. I think it’s because I just feel understood and validated and safe around folks who have struggled with similar shit. It allows me to build the kind of closeness that I need to be with someone.

What has been the hardest part of being trans?

I want to be more specific this year and say that it’s hard to be non-binary.

Because so few people understand or want to understand, so few people see you as you actually are, and you’re juggling a lot of different forms of oppression coming from cisgender and [binary] trans people alike.

This year I decided to stop playing it safe and calling myself “transgender” all the time when what I really mean is non-binary.

I realized that it was a revolutionary act to openly and urgently name myself as a non-binary writer and advocate. And I knew that my community needed me to be upfront about this, because we’re so invisible in so many spaces.

With that has been an avalanche of really important self-reflection. Reflections on how to claim my identity, how to stop apologizing for it, and how to navigate what it means to be a public figure who is also genderqueer.

It’s been a worthwhile process. Because while it is true that I am transgender, it is equally, if not more true that I am non-binary. And opting for neutral language just because it’s more accessible does not challenge people to learn about me or my community.

Sometimes we have to work a little harder to be seen and understood, even if it means taking a stance that isn’t neutral or palatable, because being seen is a fundamentally important part of our liberation.

Shout-out to my non-binary readers who encouraged me to start using this language, and continue to boost the signal on my work. You are the heart and soul of this blog.

What do you think is in store for you in 2016?

A lot of body hair (thanks, testosterone!). A lot of selfies (thanks, Instagram!).

And kind of unrelated, but I’m determined to launch a YouTube channel (which you can subscribe to early if you’d like, follow the link!) and to get a cat.

Because seriously. Why don’t I have a cat yet?

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Update: Turns out I just had to wait one more year!

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10 thoughts on “The (Second) Elephant in the Room: Another Gender Q&A

  1. socialdeviance13 says:

    Reading your blog (okay, I’m new, but I perved it all day yesterday), I felt like there was a link between us, something besides being non-binary, something I was missing. Reading this is almost like reading a memoir from myself. I, too, am bipolar (and that doesn’t help when your spouse is an Aspie lol). I, too, prefer partners whose gender expression (if not identity) differs from the gender assigned at birth. I’m also a feminist. Granted, I don’t want T because I’m really NOT interested in tree-trimming every morning, but I do still want a more gender-neutral appearance. I’m really glad I found your blog. Maybe through reading more about your experiences, I can learn more about myself and ways to help others understand me. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

    Woo-hoo! I’m still hyperventilating from the wild ride through this aspect of your life. The short version.

    I label myself as “gender-flexible.” That gives me room and permission to ignore the whole thing, at least until I meet someone worth the time and energy.

    Great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

        I think I have been influenced by Andy Warhol and David Bowie a lot, as examples of people who flowed without giving relevance to “declaring gender.”

        One of my most fun relationships was with a male assigned guy who wanted to be a lesbian. I have never felt particularly female, although as I age I don’t resent it as much and I think the equipment would be uncomfortable…anyway, with this person gender was so irrelevant that we were able to just enjoy life and sex was a blast. Too bad he was a compulsive liar…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Raye says:

    I relate to a lot of this! Reclaiming femininity, using genderqueer to describe yourself instead of just transgender; I also had one of my ah-ha moments via a television show! Max and Ivan from the L Word, for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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